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Running A Small Service Company

LI-NY Tech

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I wrote this for the USA Newsletter a while back.  Thought some people here might find it interesting.

 

Running A Small Service Company

Small service company (SSC).  An SSC is a company made up of less than 5 employees.  The Small Business Administration statistics for 2013, the latest available, show that businesses of this size make up approximately 80% of appliance repair companies in the United States.  Businesses in this category often consist of just one person. Most of the people I know in this industry either run or work for an SSC,  I run an SSC.  Although this size business has a lot in common with larger companies operating a very small service company has unique challenges that larger companies may not share.

Most SSC owners are also full time technicians.  As techs and business people we have a wide variety of responsibility that might be delegated in a larger company.  Not only do we have to run service calls all day, attend technical training every few months and re-stock our trucks on a daily basis, we also have to meet with the accountant, run payroll and review the performance of other techs in our company.  Not only do we have to research field service software, check up on payments collected by employees and wait on hold to talk to customer service for our ISP, we have to package and return parts, email the manufacturer service manager about that recurring warranty issue and so on, ad infinitum.  And also be home in time for dinner, because why do all of this otherwise?

Balancing this technical, business and personal responsibility can be a challenge. As with any size business the ultimate responsibility lies with the owner.  But in an SSC day to day, almost every problem, no matter how small, almost every decision, no matter how trivial, is in the hands of the owner.  So what can we do to alleviate the stress that comes with that responsibility?

I’m sitting here on a Sunday evening writing this.  We spent the day in New York City at a food truck festival with the kids, they loved riding the subway.  It was a fun day.  But it’s 9pm and I feel like I need to get back to work.  This is the way it is.  This business is my life and vice versa.  My wife and I are both a part of it, so is my father, my children come to work with me sometimes and hold the flashlight.  There is very little separation between business and personal life, and this is what we’ve chosen.  Business is discussed in the same conversation as family vacations.   I spent most of Friday evening thinking, and discussing with my wife, about an email I sent to the president of an ultra premium appliance brand as we try to work out an arrangement for my company to service their products.  Was it worded properly?  Are the rates I submitted calculated correctly?  And this was over a beer on parents night out.  But it wasn’t a burden, we enjoyed it, it’s simply another part of our lives.

I don’t have a service manager, that’s me.  I don’t have a parts department or a technical support team for my technicians, that’s me.  I don’t have someone to manage inventory, that’s me.  And I like it that way.  And that’s the way many SSC owners feel.  With what seems like a constant push for growth from all sides many of us are happy with the way things are.  We are doing well.  We are agile and quick to make necessary changes because we can, because we are small.  Everyone structures their lives differently but all of us are totally invested in this on an excruciatingly personal level.

With the overwhelming majority of US appliance repair companies being very small and not planning on growing I think we need to take some time to consider how we can improve and professionalize this segment of the industry.  Some of our companies are having trouble competing with larger service providers, what can we do that they can’t?  Some are having trouble keeping up with technological changes, what can we do to improve access to information, and education on how to find information?  Some are concerned with rising overhead costs and lower appliance sales prices, what can we deduce about the future of the SSC from those two trends?  These are questions that need to be answered if companies of this size want to continue to operate profitably into the future.  Let’s answer them.

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Adirondack Bob

Posted

That's a great article David. Thank You! for being a cheerleader for our industry/livelihood.

 

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KurbyMstr

Posted

Thanks for sharing.  Gives us something to think about.  

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Lighthouse

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Great article as always, Thanks!

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That was a great read.

What can we do as a little business that the big boys can’t you ask? 

Make Friends!!! 

When you make friends with your customer they are willing to wait on you, and call only you! 

That gives you room to take Saturdays and Sundays off. ( Though I would recommend half a day every other Saturday or so to go through things and organize. No phone calls.

Take a vacation with your family at least once a year.  How? Christmas! Take the whole damn week of Christmas off! 

Quick

 

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Lighthouse

Posted

51 minutes ago, Quick said:

When you make friends with your customer they are willing to wait on you, and call only you! 

 

Some of them bake goodies for me, give me stuff from garden, or fresh canned goods 

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Samtech

Posted

Great article Dave.  I think the transition from a 9-5 lifestyle to Business Owner- Entrepreneur- Future Captain of Industry  can be quite an eyeopener for some folks.  Especially if you were raised by 9 to 5 parents.  I was fortunate  to be born & raised  above my family's Pizzeria. You learn that the business always comes first.  You're always thinking of ways to improve and expand. For me it was always easier to go to work, than to plan a day off or vacation. "Parental Brainwashing" .But you learned some great lessons early in life, Like how to show up early for work (early was on time and on time was late)   It also ruined me from working for anyone else.  I've tried many times, but being raised in business alters your mindset permanently'.  I hope that I didn't hijack the conversation.  I always enjoy your articles. Thanks   Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Rocks!

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Adirondack Bob

Posted

12 minutes ago, Samtech said:

I was fortunate  to be born & raised  above my family's Pizzeria. You learn that the business always comes first.  You're always thinking of ways to improve and expand.

 

13 minutes ago, Samtech said:

"Parental Brainwashing" .But you learned some great lessons early in life

Holy shitski Samtech, that's almost my life word for word.

When I was young my father was manager at Coca Cola. In 1980 when I was 10 he quit Coke and bought several laundromats. In 1990 when I turned 20 I started full time at the laundromats. Been there 28 years. Started my company on 2010. 

Overheard everything from "Who to pay first this month" to how to deal with this customer or how to improve the stores.

You Sir, just made me realize how much my Dad has subliminally taught me. I'm calling him in the morning. Thank You Samtech!

 

 

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Adirondack Bob

Posted

The struggles are real for a SSC. And the victories.

I am a single owner/Tech. Completely by myself. My girlfriend wants no part and I never had children. But that's ok- I love what I do and accept the challenge.

But again- THE STRUGGLES ARE REAL!

It's 8 pm on Monday- I ran 10 calls today- just got today's calls updated (closing out calls, Quickbooks, order parts, bank deposit) and now I'm starting to work on tomorrow's calls- out of the 11 calls tomorrow probably about half have to be pre-diagnosed. Hoping to be to bed by 11:00 pm. 

While there is tons of info on this site- and all of these issues have been discussed before- maybe we should get together on a common thread to address some issues. 

Off the top of my head- Virtual assistants, hiring an office manager, Google Voice or any help with taking the call, apps that make our life easier, using technology in the field, disclaimers, pricing...etc.

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Samtech

Posted

Yep running certain types of family business's can be challenging.  I remember telling some family members that I was getting married and taking two weeks off! The expression on their faces was comical 😮. I was the first person to get married on a Saturday too. Because Saturday was our busiest day. When I was younger and asked for the night off to go to a prom, my old man said " are you sure?,  you'll lose a days pay. Have to rent a tux, buy flowers,  are you sure you want to go?  Business came first period!  I've worked through broken ribs, a fractured elbow and a broken foot too.  I didn't even realize that I broke a bone in my foot until a year after I happened!  Unfortunately I have a high pain threshold,  that never served me well. I was raised in the  "Walk It Off " generation.  I'm not complaining, just explaining. 

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Adirondack Bob

Posted

Yup, my Dad is tough as nails at 75 years old. Better shape than me. Works 6 days a week at the Laundromats. 

Me? A broken bone in the foot? I'm cryin' like a baby...:)

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LI-NY Tech

Posted

11 hours ago, Adirondack Bob said:

Off the top of my head- Virtual assistants, hiring an office manager, Google Voice or any help with taking the call, apps that make our life easier, using technology in the field, disclaimers, pricing...etc.

Great ideas Bob.  I just wrote an article on pricing that should be in the next USA newsletter.  Those other topics are food for future articles as well.

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I just read your USA article Dave  as usual Great Job.   You may be wasting your talents turning wrenches.  :D

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